The sixth stop on our journey through the solar system is Saturn. Best recognized for its rings, Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system. Saturn is not the only planet that has rings, but its rings are the most complex and prominent of all the planets.
The ancients knew about Saturn and it is the furthest planet that was discovered with the naked eye. Saturn was named after the Roman God of agriculture and wealth, who was also Jupiter’s father.
- Saturn has the second shortest day in the solar system.
- If the Earth were the size of a nickel, Saturn would be as big as a volleyball.
- Saturn has 83 moons
- Saturn is not the only planet with rings
- Saturn is the 2nd largest planet in the solar system
Size and Distance
Saturn, not including its rings, is nine times wider than Earth with a radius of 36,183.7 miles (58,232 km). A good comparison to think of is if Earth were the size of a nickel, Sautrn would be the size of a volleyball. It takes light 80 minutes to travel from the Sun to Saturn at an average distance of 886 million miles (1.4 billion km) from the Sun.
Orbit and Rotation
One full spin of Saturn only takes 10.7 hours, making its days the second shortest in the solar system. A year on Saturn, one complete orbit around the Sun, takes 29.4 Earth years. Like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons. The tilt of Saturn’s axis is 26.73 degrees from straight up and down. Earth’s axis is tilted at 23.4 degrees. This magnitude of title gives the planets seasons that are not extreme yet are still distinct from one another.
While Saturn is not the only planet in our solar system with rings, they are the most prominent. It is thought that Saturn’s rings are made from pieces of comets, asteroids, or shattered moons that were crushed by Saturn’s gravity before they reached the planet. Saturn’s rings are made up of billions of small pieces of rock, dust, and ice. These particles range from tiny dust particles to pieces as big as a house. Some chunks have even been found to be the size of mountains. Each of Saturn’s rings orbits the planet at a different speed. Saturn’s entire ring system spans out 175,000 miles (282,000 km) from the planet, but is only about 30 feet (10 meters) at its thickest points.
Structure and Surface
Saturn is mainly made of Hydrogen and Helium. At it’s center is a dense core of metals surrounded by rocky material. This is all enclosed in a liquid metallic hydrogen layer inside another layer of liquid hydrogen. Very similar to Jupiter’s core. Though Saturn has a dense core, it does not have a true surface. Even though Saturn as a dense core and is so massive, its average density is less than that of water. If you were to put Saturn in a pool, it would float.
Atmosphere and Magnetosphere
Like Jupiter, Saturn is covered in clouds that are distinguishable as faint stripes, jet streams, and storms, though not as prominent as Jupiter’s. Saturn is shades of greys, browns, and yellows. The winds in the upper atmosphere over Saturn’s equatorial regions reach speed up to 1,600 feet per second (500 meters per second). The strongest hurricane winds on Earth only reach about 360 feet per second (110 meters per second). At Saturn’s north pole we find a weather system unlike any other in the solar system. There is a six-sided jet stream with 200 mile per hour (322 km per hour) winds with a massive storm at its center.
- 1979 – Pioneer 11 – NASA Saturn flyby
- 1980 – Voyager 1 – NASA Mission to Jupiter and Saturn
- 1981 – Voyager 2 – NASA Mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond
- 2004 – Cassini – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn
- 2005 – Huygens – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn’s satellite Titan